Hey soil, how’s it going? Pretty dry out there?
Your soil is the foundation for your garden. Yes, I know it’s truly the foundation: it’s the stuff you step on when you walk out into the garden, and it’s the stuff you put the plants in. But soil is much more than that. It contains nutrients and minerals and the organisms that work with plants to help unlock all of that goodness. Healthy soil also contains holes – little pores that typically contain air and moisture.
How can you get soil that is fertile and moist and forms the perfect foundation for your garden plants? Mulching your garden can add both fertility and moisture to your soil, and it also protects the soil that you have from the dry, baking heat of the summer.
What is mulch? It’s a layer of organic material that you place on your garden soil. Straw and leaves are two common mulches, but people use all sorts of things, including wood chips and corrugated cardboard.
Mulching is something that’s often done in the fall to protect the soil for the winter. A fall mulch will protect plants that you’d like to overwinter, keeping them a little bit warmer by providing a nice, thick blanket in the garden. Just like a good sweater or blanket has air pockets in it, so too does mulch. In areas with heavy winter moisture, a fall mulch prevents your soil fertility from running away over the winter. It keeps the soil intact.
The purpose of a summer mulch is different. In the summer, you likely want to avoid making your plants warm, and you probably don’t mind if your plants get a little rain. So what’s up with the mulch recommendation?
It turns out that mulch is equally helpful to plants in the summer months. Placing mulch over your plants prevents evaporation of the existing soil moisture. When you water your plants in the heat, a lot of this water may just head right back up into the air, and mulch reduces this evaporation. A summer mulch also acts as an umbrella, reducing the direct glare from the sun. Finally, it reduces the number of weeds that compete with your plants for moisture, smothering them in a layer of organic material. As the mulch decomposes over the course of the year, it also makes the soil more complex, meaning that there are more holes for water in that soil. How much mulch should you add? In Australia, home of the drylands, the recommendation is for about 3 inches of coarse mulch.
How are you preparing your garden for the dry season?